In one week, two celebrities, fashion designer Kate Spade, 55, and beloved chef and TV personality, Anthony Bourdain, 61, died of suicide. At best, it was shocking; at worst, millions of people are coming to grips with the idea that a successful life with fans, money and world adventures isn’t enough. To quote Jim Carrey after Robin Williams 2014 suicide at the age of 63:
“I think everybody should get rich and famous and do everything they ever dreamed of so they can see that it’s not the answer.”
In trying to rationalize the reasons behind suicide, we look to statistics and studies. First, the data.
When looking at the suicide rate by country for 2018, 177 countries were analyzed by the World Population Review (worldpopulationreview.com), which uses data from the United Nations, and the countries with the lowest suicide rates aren’t necessarily the richest or the happiest. Countries with less than three suicides per 100,000 include the Caribbean Islands, Pakistan, Egypt and Indonesia. The United States ranks around the middle of the list at 14.3 per 100,000 while Sri Lanka has the highest rate at 35.3 per 100,000. Included between the U.S. and Sri Lanka are the Central African Republic, Sweden, India, France, Russia, Japan and South Korea. There is no clear-cut answer for these rankings, though it’s important to know that not all countries report deaths in the same fashion so certain deaths by suicide may be referred to as accidental or otherwise.
In the United States, in comparison of the 50 states by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Montana, Alaska and Wyoming top the per capita ranking at roughly 25 suicides per 100,000, with California at 10.5 and New Jersey the lowest at 7.2; in 2016, 44,965 died of suicide. A closer look at California, however, reveals that rural counties of less than 175,000 people have higher suicide rates than more densely populated urban counties. In the U.S. overall, including California, white middle-aged males aged 45-64 were cited as the most vulnerable group in 2014 with a rate of approximately 30 per 100,000, according to the National Center for Health Statistics. Veterans have a 22 percent higher risk than non-veteran adults, according to U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs. The VA actually calculated that 1999 to 2010, approximately 22 veterans died of suicide daily.
With all the data, it’s easy to get lost in the numbers and what it all means in trying to address it. There are countless studies and theories as to how mental illness, poverty, occupation, social connection, etc., pertains to suicide, but there are so many variables, it’s nearly impossible to find a concrete path to saving all lives. Plus, not all depressed people are suicidal. If a person admits that he or she is depressed, treating a depressed person as suicidal may do more harm than good.
While we can only do so much to change or prevent chemical imbalances in the brain or poverty, aging, skill sets, etc., we can try a little harder to care about and understand each other, especially if a person is seeking more engagement. To put into context the power we have to help one another, Cigna health services provider conducted a survey, releasing the results last month. The survey found:
- Nearly halfof Americans report sometimes or always feeling alone (46 percent) or left out (47 percent).
- One in fourAmericans (27 percent) rarely or never feel as though there are people who really understand them.
- Two in fiveAmericans sometimes or always feel that their relationships are not meaningful (43 percent) and that they are isolated from others (43 percent).
- One in fivepeople report that they rarely or never feel close to people (20 percent) or feel as though there are people they can talk to (18 percent).
- Americans who live with others are less likely to be lonely (average loneliness score of 43.5) compared to those who live alone (46.4). However, this does not apply to single parents/guardians (average loneliness score of 48.2) – even though they live with children, they are more likely to be lonely.
- Only around half of Americans(53 percent) have meaningful in-person social interactions, such as having an extended conversation with a friend or spending quality time with family, on a daily basis.
- Generation Z (adults ages 18-22) is the loneliest generationand claims to be in worse health than older generations.
- Social media use alone is not a predictor of loneliness; respondents defined as very heavy users of social media have a loneliness score (43.5) that is not markedly different from the score of those who never use social media (41.7).
The solution? Love unconditionally and put some effort into more real life social interconnectedness. It may not just be someone else’s life you save. It may be your own.